Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division
Appeal from the St. Louis County Circuit Court. Honorable Ellen L. Siwak.
FOR APPELLANT: Christopher M. Braeske, St. Louis, Missouri.
FOR RESPONDENT: Lance C. Bretsnyder, Clayton, Missouri; Janice M. Lauer, Guardian Ad Litem, St. Louis, Missouri.
Philip M. Hess, Judge. Sherri B. Sullivan, P.J., and Mary K. Hoff, J., concur.
Philip M. Hess, Judge.
L.G. (Mother) appeals the trial court's judgment terminating her parental rights to her daughter, S.Y.B.G. (Child). Mother claims there was insufficient evidence supporting the grounds for termination and the court's finding that termination was in the child's best interest. We affirm.
L.G. is the natural mother of S.Y.B.G., born on July 11, 2007. At the time, Mother was in a relationship with the biological father, who is now deceased. In September 2011, police responded to a 911 call from Mother stating that she was in distress and hallucinating from using methamphetamine and marijuana. When officers arrived, they found Mother unable to function. Child was home alone with Mother at the time. On December 13, 2011, the Children's Services Division of St. Louis County (Division) filed a petition alleging that Mother had failed to provide care and custody for the minor child. The Division took protective custody of Child on December 23, 2011, and she was placed in foster care. On January 24, 2012, the child was adjudicated abused or neglected. On January 27, 2012, Mother entered into a written service plan agreement with the Division, whereby she agreed to obtain psychological and drug/alcohol evaluations, as well as attend and participate in counseling, recommended programs and classes, and submit to drug screens upon request. Mother was also required to attend weekly visits with Child and obtain suitable housing and employment. On February 1, 2013, the juvenile officer filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights pursuant to § 211.447.5(2) (" abuse and neglect) and § 211.447.5(3) (" failure to rectify" ).
On June 28, 2013, the trial court conducted a hearing on the petition. On September 28, 2013, the court entered its
judgment terminating Mother's parental rights, finding that the Child had been under the court's jurisdiction for a period of at least one year, that Mother suffers from a chemical dependency that prevents her from consistently providing the necessary care, custody and control over Child, and which is not likely to be remedied in the near future, and that the continuation of the parent-child relationship greatly diminishes Child's prospects for early integration into a stable and permanent home. The court further found that termination of Mother's parental rights was in Child's best interest. Mother appeals.
Standard of Review
We will affirm the trial court's judgment terminating a party's parental rights unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, it is against the weight of the evidence, or it erroneously declares or applies the law. In re C.J.G., 75 S.W.3d 794, 797 (Mo. App. W.D. 2002). The judgment will be reversed only if we are left with a firm belief that the judgment is wrong. Id. The evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the trial court's judgment and we defer to the court's determination regarding credibility of witnesses. In re J.M.S., 83 S.W.3d 76, 82 (Mo. App. W.D. 2002). The party seeking termination bears the burden of proof in a termination of parental rights proceeding. Id.
The termination of a party's parental rights requires a two-step analysis. First, the trial court must find by " clear, cogent, and convincing evidence" that one or more grounds for termination of parental rights exists. In re G.G.B., 394 S.W.3d 457, 472 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013). " Clear, cogent, and convincing evidence" is evidence that instantly tilts the scales in favor of termination when weighed against the evidence in opposition and the trier of fact is left with an abiding conviction that the evidence is true. In re E.F.B.D., 245 S.W.3d 316, 319 (Mo. App. S.D. 2008). This standard may be satisfied even when evidence contrary to the trial court's finding is presented or the evidence might support a different conclusion. Id.
If the trial court finds that at least one of the statutory grounds for termination exists, the court must then determine whether, by a preponderance of the evidence, the termination of parental rights is in the child's best interest. In re K.A.C., 246 S.W.3d 537, 543 (Mo. App. S.D. 2008). The " best interest" determination is a subjective assessment based on the totality of the circumstances. In re G.G.B., 394 S.W.3d at 472. We review the trial court's best interest determination for an abuse of discretion. In re P.L.O., 131 S.W.3d 782, 789 (Mo. banc 2004). An abuse of discretion occurs only when the trial court's ruling is " clearly against the logic of the circumstances and so unreasonable and arbitrary that it shocks the sense of justice and indicates a lack of careful, deliberate consideration." In re S.R. J., Jr., 250 S.W.3d 402, 406 (Mo. App. E.D. 2008).
Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights
In her first and second points, Mother challenges the sufficiency of evidence to support the grounds for termination pursuant to § 211.447.5(2) (" abuse and neglect" ) and § 211.447.5(3) (" failure to rectify" ).
As an initial matter, we note that under Point I of her brief, Mother misconstrues the basis for the termination of her parental rights, in that, she challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support termination pursuant to § 211.447.5(2) (" abuse
and neglect" ). Although the court makes reference to both § 211.447.5(2) and § 211.447.5(3), as alleged in the petition, it is apparent that the court's findings (and subheadings) track the basis for termination set out in § 211.447.5(3), not § 211.447.5(2). Indeed, it is evident from the judgment that the court's findings were specifically tailored to address the factors in subsections (a) through (d) of § 211.447.5(3). As such, we address only Mother's challenge to the grounds for termination based on § 211.447.5(3), as set forth in Point II. Point I is denied.
Section 211.447.5(3) - Failure to Rectify
In her second point, Mother claims the trial court erred in terminating her parental rights under § 211.447.5(3) because there was insufficient evidence to support the court's findings.
For parental rights to be terminated based on § 211.447.5(3), the child must have been under the juvenile court's jurisdiction for a period of ...